General Electric has today offered an upbeat outlook for its business this year after reporting a surge in quarterly free cash flow. 

The Boston-based industrial conglomerate predicted a free cash flow of $2.5 billion to $4.5 billion this year after generating cash flow of $4.4 billion in the fourth quarter. 

That compares with Refinitiv's average analyst estimate of $3.03 billion for 2021 and about $2.6 billion for the latest quarter. 

The company had previously predicted a cash flow of at least $2.5 billion in the fourth quarter and a return to positive cash flow for 2021. 

Free-cash flow is closely watched by investors as a sign of the health of GE's operations and ability to pay down debt. 

With the earnings report signaling progress in chief executive Larry Culp's turnaround plan, GE's shares soared about 6% in pre-market trade. 

Since taking over the company's reins in 2018, Culp has been trying to revive GE's fortunes by improving free cash flow and cutting debt. 

However, the coronavirus pandemic hit those efforts by hammering the company's aviation unit, usually its most profitable and most cash-generative segment. 

In response, Culp cut costs by more than $2 billion and took other steps to save $3 billion in cash last year. 

GE said aviation revenue would be flat to up this year as much depends on the pace of recovery in commercial air traffic as well as the timing of aircraft deliveries. 

The return of Boeing's 737 MAX jets, which use GE's engines, also augurs well for the conglomerate. 

Overall, the company expects an improvement in its industrial business this year, forecasting a low-single-digit growth in revenue. Industrial revenue declined 13% in 2020. 

Adjusted earnings in 2021 are forecast to come in the range of $0.15 to $0.25 per share compared with $0.01 last year.